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Seafood can provide both the nutrition and the packaging, Source: Fish4Fish

University of Siena leads research on revolutionary packaging material

University of Siena leads research on revolutionary packaging material

Biopolymers derived from sea creatures may help solve the problem of ocean plastic pollution

The University of Siena, in Tuscany, is heading a new project that aims to tackle the cumbersome issue of maritime plastic pollution, and it will do so with the creation of biodegradable packaging material. It will be made from polymers derived from the shells of sea animals, such as shrimp, and although it will be reminiscent of plastic visually this is where all similarities end.

The name of the project - Fish4Fish – perfectly encapsulates the ambition behind it. The sea animals will not only be the source of food but also the source of the material used to package such food. The minds behind the project, forming part of a Spanish-Italian consortium of academia and private companies, are adamant that it will be a perfect example of a circular economy.

The packaging will also prolong seafood shelf life

The focal point of the research happens at the laboratories of the Department of Biotechnology, Chemistry and Pharmacy at the University of Siena.

A biodegradable and compostable bioplastic will be obtained from seafood processing waste, shrimp shells in particular. These are quite rich in chitin, one of the most abundant biopolymers in nature. A soluble polymer, chitosan, is then obtained from the chitin. Using other waste from wood processing - such as lignin nanoparticles – will also give the new material antimicrobial, antioxidant and photoprotective properties.

The latter addition also means that the shelf life of perishable foods can be extended, reducing food waste in the long term. And what’s more, later on, the biofilm can actually be used as fertilizer. And for even better visualization of the idea of the project, you can watch the accompanying video.

The project has taken another step forward and is now moving towards the creation of prototypes for possible placing on the market. The advantages for the environment are undeniable, and so is the economic convenience for the private sector. Companies linked to the fish supply chain would no longer have to bear the costs of waste disposal, and food companies and shops would have a competitive advantage linked to food storage times. 

The bioplastic has also been selected by the European Commission as one of the "best in class projects" for the 2021 edition of Ecomondo - the fair of environmental sustainability.

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